Why Klobuchar should be Biden’s vice presidential pick

After Joe Biden’s strong debate performance on March 15 and third straight huge primary night two days later, it is increasingly obvious he will be the Democratic nominee. Even without the Ohio vote, the March 17 primaries all but sealed the deal, with sweeping wins in Florida, Illinois and Arizona giving Biden a 300 delegate lead, ending any reasonable chance for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to catch up.

Biden’s bombshell pronouncement in the debate that he will choose a woman as running mate, while unprecedented, is less surprising than it may initially look — given the pressure he was under to pick a woman. There remains huge demand for a woman on the ticket among many Democrats bitterly disappointed with the 2016 outcome, as evidenced by a recent letter to the Democratic National Committee from top officials at EMILY’s List, the American Federation of Teachers, and other groups.

In fact, more than 56 percent of all women registered voters affiliate with or lean toward Democrats. Driving high turnout among suburban women outraged by Trump’s presidency is one key to a Biden victory.

Choosing a woman will also highlight Trump’s political and personal problems with women, which have only increased since his election. Indeed, this vulnerability helps explain persistent rumors that Trump will dump Pence from his own 2020 ticket in favor of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or another female running mate.

The other major new development in choosing a running mate is of course the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now quite conceivable that a sitting president could contract and be sickened by the virus, especially now that both presumptive nominees, Trump and Biden, will be in their 70s. This fact alone increases the focus on the Vice Presidency.

Certainly the false statements by President Trump regarding COVID-19 have undercut his credibility for many as a source of reliable information about the pandemic. But equally, even after being put in charge of the coronavirus task force, Vice President Pence’s unwillingness to correct statements by Trump highlights the fact that Trump has systematically surrounded himself with loyalists at the expense of expertise. As a matter of contrast, the competence of Biden’s team, starting with his VP selection, has never been more important.

Despite these developments, the most crucial consideration for Democrats remains political — specifically, which running mate can most help Biden win what promises to be a bruising November election.

Biden has been weakest with younger voters, so there is an argument that that he should consciously choose a VP who appeals to the under-40 demographic of Bernie Sanders. Yet it is not clear which possible VP attracts young liberals, since figures like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) did not do especially well with the cohort, either. Moreover, there is strong evidence that Sanders is better disposed toward Biden than he was toward Hillary Clinton and that Sanders will more directly urge his voters to support “Uncle Joe’s” clearly progressive agenda.

Biden might choose an African American running mate, doubling down on the black voters to whom he undoubtedly owes much of his recent political resurgence. In this case, figures like Sen. Harris and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams might seem logical. Yet there is no black woman candidate who seems likely to help actually win a state Biden currently lacks (Georgia will remain a long shot, California of course is in the bag). With Biden already appealing powerfully to black voters as Barrack Obama’s own Vice President, an African American running mate may not seem the urgent priority for Biden it would be for another Democrat.

But given the key roles that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin played in electing Trump in the first place, the single most compelling rationale for a VP choice will be regional — that is, finding a candidate who will help Biden in specific Midwestern and Great Lakes states where the 2020 election will be won or lost.

Of these, Pennsylvania and Michigan already show strong signs of trending Democratic. Michigan Democrats netted two additional U.S. House seats in the 2018 mid-terms, as well as electing Gov. Gretchen Whitmire, who remains a strong VP option after being named co-chair of Biden’s campaign. Yet just last week Michigan voters gave Biden a resounding primary victory by more than 16 percent, and polls show Biden with a solid lead over Trump there.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats also netted three House seats in 2018, and made huge gains among suburban women. Polls give Biden a steady lead in the Keystone state as well, which of course includes Biden’s boyhood home of Scranton. Among other traditional Midwestern swing states, Trump won Ohio by a whopping 8 points in 2016, so the Buckeye state will probably stay out of reach for Democrats, unless Biden presides over a wave election. 

Far less noticed, but far closer, however, is Minnesota, which Trump lost by only 1.5 percent, or just 44,000 votes, in 2016. Which brings us to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

In addition to a widely admired showing in her recent presidential run, Minnesota elected Klobuchar to a third straight Senate term in 2018 by a smashing 24 points, with over 60 percent of the total vote. With Klobuchar on the ticket, Biden would instantly secure the Land of 10,000 Lakes in his column.

Not only that, but Klobuchar is among the few Democrats who would be most helpful in bordering Wisconsin, the single state most likely to decide a close election, and one with which Minnesota has a unique cultural affinity. While polls show a very narrow Biden lead over Trump in Wisconsin (and Democrats did defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2018), analysts from both parties say Wisconsin will probably be the single closest state in country come November, which is precisely why Democrats will be holding their convention in Milwaukee.

Indeed, Klobuchar’s no-nonsense, heartland appeal would likely play well throughout the critical Midwest, in both rural and suburban areas. She is also politically adroit, immediately endorsing Biden when she dropped out of race.

Klobuchar’s reputation for being a difficult boss, while counted against her by some staff on Capitol Hill, could also accrue to her benefit, helping to burnish a tough campaigner reputation from the primaries, and enabling her to play a “bad cop” role in a general election against a vulnerable Trump record. But Klobuchar would be wise to quickly end any abuse toward underlings. 

Of course, many other women candidates are possible and deserve consideration. But in the final analysis, a Vice Presidential candidate must both help Biden win the general election, and also be ready to become president on day one. For Democrats desperate to beat Donald Trump in 2020, Amy Klobuchar seems to fit that bill better than anyone else.

Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a policy and communications consultancy and strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Center. He is also a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as staff member in the U.S. House, Senate Finance Committee, Interior Department and on President Bill Clinton’s White House Climate Change Task Force.

Tags 2020 election Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Democratic Party vice presidential candidate selection Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Nikki Haley Wisconsin

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